A Few Good Men

Recorded and Knit together by WSM

As the wind whips up the autumn leaves along the bottom of the hill children are tossing them over each other as if they are snowballs. Their father stands patiently by the stroller, smiling as he allows his family to cover him with the yellow leaves. The clocks went back, the temperature is dropping, and blue skies struggle to be seen between the grey rain clouds. I reach the bus stop just as the number 274 comes along. I have an appointment with Nick. Following Covid guidelines, the salon remains quiet and his clients come in one by one. Soon a petite, sparrow-sexy lady of beyond my years enters. Socially separated, she settles in beside me for her biweekly shampoo and blow dry. I watch these two old friends sharing the news of the past weeks as best they can through their blue masks. Nick works steadily, caring for her and she relaxes under his touch.

Returning home the weather is squally. Walk, bus and walk again, along an alleyway between Mornington Cresent and Delancy Street, where an old man walks slowly towards me. Politely he stops to give me some distance on the pavement but in truth he has to pause. He is short of breath and is not sure in which pocket he will find his house keys. Then a lithe tabby cat crosses ‘his’ road – slowly – with ownership. At the pavement he leaps lightly to the railing that protects the house, and the stairwell to the basement flat, from the street. A window faces him. He calls – twice – loudly. The lace curtain flutters, the window-sash is raised and he bounds inside and out of the rain. The window closes behind him.

I hurry home to make supper. ‘My Kitchen and I are in good harmony’ wrote a chef, and I understand. One meal leads to another in a simpler way than the frantic cooking of early lock-down. Now there is just a weekly foray into the unknown. Chicken Pot Pie is the challenge for tonight.

Chicken Pot Pie for supper.

Nightly we watch the steep lift in the graph curve of the COVID-19 infection numbers in Little England. Throughout the country hospital staff are still feeling bruised as no-one seems to have caught their breath from the first wave of this disease. This summer the Duchess of Cambridge called for photographs taken during lockdown. Now 100 chosen photos are on display at the ‘Hold Still’ exhibit at the National Portrait Gallery. ’Melanie March 2020’ was photographed by her colleague, Johannah Churchill, and now mural artist, Pete Barber, has painted her for the High Street in Manchester. The picture depicts what no one wants to return to.

Image from any of the many sources

Each corner of the country is metered out a different set of government rulings. People are confused, angry and frightened and not always sure of what or at whom. The rulings leave poor people struggling more than before while big businesses find lucrative loopholes.

Half-term has begun which means that school children are home for two weeks. Marcus Rashford, the 22 year-old English Football player, (who may yet have me watching football) petitioned the UK government to continue providing school meals to children whose families are in need over the holidays. The government rejected the petition. But all over the country, local restaurants, big and small businesses are supporting Rashford in providing lunch-meals through this half-term holiday. Speaking to BBC Newsnight, Rashford explained: “Growing up we didn’t have a lot, but we’ve always had the safety net of the community. That community was my family.” For those of us who live in communities we get it. News flashes show Marcus doing the heavy lifting with crates of food and Boris, softer-spoken today, holding a loaf of sliced bread. For now, and long haul, I have my money on Marcus. At least we know he is playing for Manchester and England.

Marcus Rashford helping out.

Meanwhile those restauranteurs looking for help have found a ‘Working Lunch’ loop-hole in the regulations for the Tier Two restriction areas, which includes London. One paper wrote ‘You can meet colleagues and people from other firms but you cannot take your mother to lunch. This is a conscious choice by the government to save jobs and livelihoods.’ The following tweets are full of British humor.

Somewhere, buried in this school meals and business lunch storm the Brexit discussions are still taking place. We don’t hear much about them. Fishing rights, like the Irish borders, remains a close-fisted problem of long standing. The French fishermen have fished in the waters of La Manche for centuries and the French government says nothing should change. The UK government is adamant that things will change. This game of chicken could end in a messy chicken salad sandwich.

And then comes Sunday. I confess to be ‘busy in the kitchen’ for some of Andrew Marr’s Political program. The strident tones of host and guest are upsetting and not good for digesting breakfast. But then I hear a calm voice. Andrew too is calmer. It is Dr. Fauci answering questions on the Corona Virus, and, politely sidestepping political jabs, he guides Andrew out of the gutter where he tends to slip speaking with the English politicians at his disposal. There is even a ‘I don’t know the answer to that.’ Politeness, calmness in the face of such needless suffering and death and a gentleman holding his own. Tears come to my eyes at the sight and sound of him. Surely a few good men is not too much to ask for.

This has been A Letter from A. Broad, written and read for you by Muriel Murch.

Respect my Existance or Expect my Resistance

Recorded and knit together by WSM. First aired on KWMR.org

Who knew that two lemon pits and a piece of soap could cause such anguish but it doesn’t take much when you are older, like the dishwasher and I. Teetering close to the edge of center, we were saved by beloved Ali and Sinder. No need to call the Sunday plumber who would have drained our wallet along with the dishwasher outlet pipe.

A late afternoon errand walk is prescribed to clear the cobwebs of dusty tears. A few people are making their way home preparing for week-twelve of their new reality. Even this late, Parkway Greens is restocking produce, and soon my string shopping bag is full. Turning into Camden behind a group of young police officers walking ahead of us, I am anxious, but they stop in front of ‘Five Guys 5 star hamburgers’ and easily join the young people returning from the afternoon’s march all waiting together for their takeout. There is very little traffic. Camden has never looked so quiet since when – probably since the last war years. Most shops would be boarded up, while a few remained open. Then there would have been posters about safely and thrift. Today’s posters are of George Floyd and Sean Rigg. On the last cross street before the Canal a new mural is looking down on us of a young black woman with her hair swept up and the words.


Respect my Existence or Expect my Resistance.

Camden Town Graffiti

Seems pretty simple really, a modern hip version of the Golden Rule.

Walking slowly home I am thinking back and remembering a road trip I took in 1996 searching for one story and finding another. A friend of a friend, David Grant, was caravanning around the world with his family: his wife Kate, three children, a dog and their horse Traceur. Overwintered in town, Traceur stayed at the farm and the family camped in the caravan up on the Mesa. Most mornings I would find their elder daughter, Ali, curled up in the hay barn asleep or reading. She reminded me of myself, sheltering in such a barn at such an age. Their trip gathered a certain amount of news interest and was good filler for when we were short a war or two. Doing some independent radio I was happy to follow along and record another moment of their journey.

So a few weeks after the Grants headed off I followed, up through Northern California, across Nevada and into bleak and desolate Idaho. Bleak became bare, bare became barren, and then the road the Grant’s had taken turned into ‘Unpaved for 12 miles over the pass.’ I turned the old Honda right onto ‘unpaved,’ driving slowly as the road twisted up a moderate incline for the first 5 miles. Soon the road became rockier, the climb steeper the sides closing into a high canyon and I began to feel nervous. How on earth had Traceur made it up this trail? This was truly tough territory and I began to wonder if I had lost my way.

But suddenly around another corner, just as I was really beginning to doubt myself, the rough road opened up and so did the rock face on my left. Beyond was a large meadow. And in the meadow there were people, and army trucks and what appeared to be a buzzing military camp. I stopped the car in the middle of the road and began, as one does in the middle of nowhere, to think, when suddenly a very fit khaki-clad middle-aged man came running towards me with a rifle over his shoulder. He lent forward and rapped sharply on the car window. I pressed the button and the window lowered. Breathing deeply I summoned my Mother.

“Good Afternoon. I wonder if you can help me.” Pure Home Counties with a smile. He stopped, pulled back a foot and touched his hat.
“Good afternoon, Mam.”
“I’m looking for a family in a horse drawn caravan. Have you seen them? Is this really the road to …”

All the time I was looking beyond him into the meadow trying to take it all in. This was a home-grown militia operation camp, practicing formation drills and target shooting and I had driven straight into it. There was even a visible archery range. If things went wrong I would not be the first or the last to go missing on this mountain pass. Luckily to him, I sounded more like an aspiration than a threat. He stood straighter still and courteously told me that yes I was indeed only six miles from the next town and that he had heard about this traveling family. If that town was where they were heading then they too would be on the road ahead. I thanked him and he touched his hat again. I didn’t ask him what they were doing. A question can become just an invitation to lie and I certainly didn’t want to hear his truth.

The Grant family did finally make it a back to Scotland. I got my story which aired on CBC in Canada. And those men in the Hills of Idaho? Some have grown old, some have died, but their sons still live. Life and a living is hard in Idaho and like many people who are isolated and feel left behind they are frightened. They were – and maybe still are – preparing with the only tools they have and know – calling out for their version of the American dream,


Respect my Existence or Expect my Resistance.

This has been A Letter from A. Broad
Written and read for you by Muriel Murch.


Monty’s Monday Mornings

Monty on a Monday

In his own words.

Today was terrible and I will never, ever go there again. She was a looking for a big box of baking soda to refresh the drains. We started off down the canal path but then went up the steps to Morrison’s Supermarket. It is vast and smells bad. What she wanted wasn’t there and so we went through more back streets to Sainsbury’s where she did find four bottles of Vinegar at .50 p each. Both stores have security guards and when we got to Sainsbury’s one of them came over and stood beside me. She gave him a firm look and he moved away!

Usually we go to Camden Town on a Monday morning. Camden holds a real mix of working Londoners. It is especially nice on Monday after the midnight city lorries, hosing down as they sweep, have cleaned the punk madness of the weekend away. The streets seem refreshed, though the polka-dot chewing gum still decorates the pavement and the water has long dried by the time we get to town. Often something has been found wanting over the weekend. ‘I may have to go into Camden for that’ is uttered in more than one household whilst drinking the morning tea when lists are made.

Delancy Street

Delancey Street curving in the sunshine

We set out weaving through the Auden Place Estate to Regent’s Park Road and walk to the big five-way junction. We cross through the maze of traffic lights onto Delancey Street and carry on past the curved row of white terraced houses where, according to his Blue Plaque, Dylan Thomas once lived.

Blue plaque for Dylan Thomas

Blue Plaque for Dylan Thomas

It is a quiet, bright street and the sun almost always seems to shine there. Often the C2 and 274 busses pass us on their way to either end of Oxford Street.

Our first stop is the coffee shop owned by George Constinantou who has been at this location for forty-two years and five months. If there are no other customers, there is room for me to come inside, while she waits and talks. She is always talking.

beans roasting

Beans roasting at Camden Coffee House

Georgio

Georgio behind his counter

Despite his shyness and the roar of the roasting beans, she knows about his annual holiday when he goes home to Cyprus to his mother and sister’s family every year. He is constantly in motion, weighing, scooping and roasting beans taken from the sacks piled up along one wall. Then 250 grams of Continental and £3.80 later we are on our way, another half a block to the Camden High Street where the pub on this corner still looks hungover on Monday morning. It is the only place that is not refreshed.

Now she crosses over the busy High Street to The Camden Town Bakery, established 1972, and gets a White Tin Loaf of bread. The bakery closed recently and ‘he’ said there were no more tin loaves, that it has all gone fast food. But thank goodness it was only getting a makeover. Housewives of a certain generation who shop on the High Street don’t want anything too fancy – sweet, yes, quick take away deli food, yes – but please keep the familiar Old Tin loaves in the corner.

She puts the loaf next to the coffee, both keeping the other warm, and we go back across the High Street to Waitrose. It is the only supermarket we like. It is small, there are more shelves with produce for proper cooking and a little less plastic wrap and more organic produce. Mostly she comes here for the household staples and I always have to nudge her at the checkout to move the tin loaf and not squash it with the laundry powder. She never remembers her coupons – she should, at her age.

One time she took me back across the road to the small artsy-crafty shop. The isles were so narrow there was barely room for me. What was she after? Turned out she needed a big bag of toy stuffing. She can’t keep up with the need for knitted piglets for all the little people she meets.

Piglett family

A litter of Piglets

It is sweet really but there are two big sweaters, I know because I’ve seen the wool, waiting for her to finish. The stuffing is cheap, I hear coins changing hands. It is bulky but very light thank goodness as I am always almost full when we leave Waitrose.

Ossie's Barber Shop

Up Parkway past Ossie’s to the greengrocer

Now we are nearly done and cross the Camden Hub High Street intersection where six roads come together by the tube station. We can go up Parkway, past the Odeon cinema, an Italian deli and Ossie the barber, to the Turkish greengrocer. We love this shop the best.  I just get to squeeze in and have to wait by the checkout counters where I can see her. The shop is so small they don’t have trolleys – only baskets. ‘Don’t get too much,’ I try to say but she never listens.

The produce is bright, very pretty and the trays are kept full. Everything is labeled, what it is, where it is from, if it is organic and there are always several varieties of whatever it is. Take choosing the organic eggs: there are chicken, duck, quail or goose. The pears are from Spain and Argentina. She always buys the ones from Argentina. The peaches from Spain are better, at the moment, than those from Italy. But the tomatoes from Italy are better than those from England. These last few weeks she has been getting gooseberries and always a bottle of pomegranate juice. The fresh organic turmeric and ginger are from Peru.

long view

Summer veg lined up

Eventually she is ready and comes back to me at the counter. No she doesn’t need a bag, she has me, and one way and another, moving the tin loaf again, everything fits in and we leave. It is uphill along Parkway but I don’t wobble at all. There are more traffic lights to cross and then the downhill bit along Regent’s Park Road back through Auden Place until we are home.

She could never carry all this on her own and she has quite come to rely on me. Inside it is one step at a time and she can pull me upstairs. Then she unloads everything out onto the kitchen counter. The relief. It is hard work, but I don’t complain. After all she nearly threw me out when she returned home last spring and saw me in my box on the terrace. I know what could have happened to me – off to the charity shop and who knows where after that. When she is done she carries me back downstairs and carefully puts me to bed, tucked away behind the washing machine. But she always remembers to say, ‘Thanks you Monty, I couldn’t have done it without you’. That “Thank You” keeps me content until Saturday when we will go out again, up and over Primrose Hill to the farmer’s market.